OVID


THE METAMORPHOSES

 

Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

 

[For publication and copyright details, please use the following link: Table of Contents. Note that the numbers without brackets refer to the English text; those in square brackets refer to the Latin text.]

 

BOOK TWELVE

 

[Aesacus’ family mourn him; the Greek fleet remains at Aulis; a snake kills nine birds; Calchas prophesies; Iphigeneia is almost sacrificed; the home of Rumour; the Greeks reach Troy; Hector kills Protesilaus; Achilles and Cycnus fight; Cycnus is transformed; the Greeks have a banquet during a truce; Nestor tells how Caenis was changed from female to male, after being assaulted by Neptune; Nestor tells of the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs, of the achievements in that fight of Pirithoüs, Theseus, and Peleus, of Cyllarus and Hylonome, of Caeneus and Latreus, and of the transformation of Caeneus; Nestor tells Tlepolemus why he does not praise Hercules; Neptune tells Apollo to kill Achilles; Apollo shoots Achilles with the bow of Paris; Achilles dies and is cremated; Ajax and Ulysses claim Achilles’ weapons; Agamemnon orders the Greek leaders to adjudicate the quarrel.]

 

Priam, father to Aesacus, mourned his loss,
not knowing he still lived on as a bird.                                                   THE GREEKS AT AULIS
Hector and his brothers also offered
pointless sacrifices at the burial site
that bore his name.(1) Paris was not present
at this gloomy ceremony, the man
who seized and carried off his wife and thus
brought a long war back to his native land.
A thousand allied ships came after him,
carrying in one united group of men                                                       10
the full force of the Pelasgian race.(2)
The Greeks would not have waited for revenge,
but fierce winds made the sea impassible,
and so the fleet, which was ready to sail,
lingered in the fishing port of Aulis,                                                                       [10]
in Boeotia. After they had prepared,                                                     CALCHAS’ PROPHECY
in accordance with their native customs,
a sacrifice to Jove and burning fires
had made the ancient altar glow, the Greeks
observed a dark-blue serpent slithering                                                 20
into a plane tree standing right beside
where they had just begun the ritual.
A nest high in the tree held eight young birds.
The serpent seized these chicks and swallowed them
in its gluttonous jaws—their mother, too,
as she fluttered around her helpless brood.
All the men just stood there, stunned. But Calchas,
Thestor’s son, who was a soothsayer, foretold
what would, in fact, occur:

 

                                       “Rejoice, you Greeks.
We will prevail! Troy will fall. But our task                                       30             [20]
will be a long one.”

 

                                 He prophesied those birds—
all nine of them—must mean nine years of war.
The snake, while coiling around green branches
in the tree, was turned to stone, preserving
the image of a serpent carved in rock.

 

North Wind kept the waters turbulent                                                  THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENEIA
in the Aonian sea and would not let
the war fleet sail. Some believed that Neptune
was sparing Troy because he built its walls.(3)
But not Thestor’s son. For he understood—                                         40
and did not hide the fact—for them to sail
they had to appease an angry goddess,
placate a virgin with a virgin’s blood.(4)
But when the demands of the public good
had overpowered all natural feelings
and the king had prevailed against the father,
as Iphigeneia, her retinue in tears,
had taken her place before the altar,
ready to offer her innocent blood,                                                                        [30]
the goddess changed her mind. She cast a cloud                                   50
over their eyes in the middle of the rite,
with men crowding in for the sacrifice
and voices praying. Then, so people say,
she made a switch and set a deer in place
of that Mycenean virgin girl. And so,
once a suitable victim had been killed
and appeased Diana, her rage calmed down,
which eased the anger of the sea.(5) The fleet
of a thousand ships received a tail wind,
sailed away, and after many hazards,                                                    60
finally reached the coast of Phrygia.

 

There is a place in the centre of the world,                                            THE HOME OF RUMOUR
between earth, sea, and sky, at the limits
of the three-fold universe where all things                                                             [40]
which exist anywhere, even far away,
are seen and where all voices penetrate
attentive ears. In this place Rumour lives.
Here she has chosen herself a dwelling
at the very summit of a citadel
with a thousand entrances and doorways,                                          70
but not a single gate to bar the way,
so the place stands open day and night.
Built out of echoing brass, it mutters,
repeating voices and whispering sounds
it has picked up. There is no quiet spot
inside, no silence anywhere. But still,
there is no loud din, only the subdued noise
of voices murmuring, the kind of sound
waves of the ocean often make when heard                                                          [50]
from far away or the rumbling produced                                               80
by a final thunder roll when Jupiter
makes the clouds collide. An unruly crowd
fills up the halls, a fickle common throng,
which comes and goes. A thousand rumours,
combining falsehood with the truth, wander
here and there, passing around misleading chat.
Some of these fill empty ears with gossip,
and some bear stories they have heard elsewhere.
The number of made-up tales keeps growing,
as every author alters what he heard                                                     90
by adding something new. Here one can find
Credulity and hot-headed Error,
empty Joy, alarming Fears, instant Sedition,                                                          [60]
and Whispers whose origin is unknown.
Rumour herself sees everything going on
in heaven, land, and sea, and asks about
events the whole world over.

 

                                              Since Rumour                                         THE GREEKS REACH TROY
has already scattered the news that Greeks
are underway with a strong force of men,
when the armed armada sails into sight,                                                 100
it comes as no surprise. The Trojans there
oppose the landing and defend the shore.
And you, Protesilaus, by Fate’s decree,
are the first to fall, killed on Hector’s spear.
The fighting starts, at great cost to the Greeks,
who learn of valiant Hector’s warlike heart
by the slaughter he inflicts, and the Trojans
come to learn, from the loss of their own men,
what a Greek right hand can do. Already                                                              [70]
the shores of Sigaeum are red with blood.                                             110

 

By this time Cycnus, a son of Neptune,                                                 CYCNUS AND ACHILLES
has killed a thousand men. Achilles, too,
has already launched a chariot charge
and overwhelmed whole rows of fighting men
with blows of his ash spear from Pelion,
keen to clash with Hector or with Cycnus.
Achilles’ fight with Hector is delayed
until the tenth year of the war, but now,
in this first fight, he does cross paths with Cycnus.
As Achilles urges on his team of horses                                                 120
and their snow-white necks strain in the yoke,
he aims his chariot right at the Trojans.
With right arm brandishing the quivering spear,
he gives a shout:

 

                 “Young man, whoever you are,                                                       [80]
when you die, take this for consolation—
you have had your throat cut by Achilles,
who comes from Thessaly!”

 

                                                    Achilles spoke.
His words were followed by his weighty spear.
Though no one could have seen a single flaw
in the way he hurled the spear, the weapon                                           130
he threw had no effect. Its sharpened point
left nothing but a bruise on Cycnus’ chest,
as if he had been struck by something blunt.
Cycnus shouted:

 

                                   “O son of a goddess—
for we have heard reports of you already—
why are you surprised I am not wounded?”

 

(For Achilles was, in fact, astonished).

 

“This helmet with its tawny horsehair crest,
as you can see, affords me no protection,
nor does this hollow shield on my left arm.                                       140
They are mere ornaments, the very reason                                                       [90]
Mars himself will often dress in armour.
If you strip me of this protective coat,
I still will walk away without a wound.
There is a benefit to being born,
not from some Nereïd, but from the god
who rules Nereus and his daughters, too,
and all the ocean waves.”(6)

 

                    Cycnus spoke these words,
then hurled his spear at Peleus’ son.
It lodged itself in his round shield of bronze,                                          150
passing through metal and the next nine layers
of cattle hide, and stopping at the tenth.
Achilles shook out this spear, and once more
his strong arm hurled a quivering weapon.
But Cycnus’ body, once again, remained
unharmed—there was no wound. And a third spear                                              [100]
could not harm Cycnus, though he left himself
exposed and vulnerable. Achilles
blazed with rage, like a bull in the arena
when its murderous horn strikes purple cloaks                                       160
men use to make it angry and it sees
the garment has escaped without a wound.
He checked the spear to see if the iron point
had fallen off. It was still fixed in place.
He told himself:

 

                  “Well, then, is my hand weak?
With this one man, has it lost the power
it had before? For it was surely strong enough
when in the foremost ranks I overthrew
Lyrnessus’ city walls, or when I soaked
Tenedos and Thebes, Eëtion’s city,                                                  170           [110]
in their own blood, or when Caïcus’ stream
flowed red from all the men I cut down there,
and Telephus twice felt the way this spear
can do its work.(7) And here, where so many
have been slaughtered—my dead are lying in piles
for everyone to see along the shore—
my hand has proved itself and will stay strong!”

 

Achilles spoke. As if he had no faith
in what had happened earlier, he hurled
his spear right at Menoetes in a crowd                                                  180
of Lycians standing across from him
and pierced his body armour and his chest
below the breastplate, both in the same blow.
Menoetes, as he lay in his death throes,
hammered his head against the solid ground.
Achilles pulled his spear from the hot wound
and cried:

 

        “This is the hand and this the spear                                                           [120]
which in this battle helped me win the day.
These same weapons I will use to fight
against that warrior, and I pray with him
the result will be the same.”

 

                                             Achilles spoke
and tried to cut down Cycnus once again.
The ash spear did not miss its mark, for Cycnus
made no attempt at all to dodge the blow.
This time the spear struck his left shoulder blade
and bounced away, as if he were a wall
or solid rock. Then Achilles noticed
that where it struck the man was stained with blood,
and he felt great joy. But all for nothing!
There was no wound. It was Menoetes’ blood!                                    200
Achilles, now truly in a rage, jumps
headlong down from his high chariot, clutching
his bright sword, seeking to battle Cycnus,
his fearless enemy, up close, hand to hand.
He sees his sword slicing shield and helmet,                                                          [130]
but Cycnus’ body is impervious
and even starts to blunt his iron blade.
Achilles can go on like this no longer,
so he pulls his own shield back and batters
his adversary’s face three or four times,                                                210
hitting his hollow temples with his sword hilt,
pressing forward as Cycnus moves away,
following close and throwing him off guard,
harrying the man, giving him no rest
from his confusion. Then fear grips Cycnus.
Shadows swim before his eyes. As he moves
backwards in retreat, a boulder standing
in the middle of the field blocks his way.
Achilles drives him back against this rock,
bending his body, and with massive force                                              220
turns Cycnus over, hurls him to the ground,
then presses his hard knees and metal shield                                                         [140]
into Cycnus’ chest, pulls the helmet straps
tight underneath his chin, squeezes his throat,
cuts off his respiration, and chokes him.
But when Achilles goes to strip the corpse                                            CYCNUS IS TRANSFORMED
of the man he has defeated, he sees
the armour is quite empty. For Neptune,
god of the sea, has transformed the body
into a white bird, which we call Cycnus,                                                230
a man’s name only moments earlier.(8)

 

After this hard fight, there was a truce
for several days. Both forces set aside
their arms and rested. Vigilant sentries
guarded Trojan walls, and alert pickets
kept watch beside the trenches of the Greeks.
Then a day of celebration came, in which
Achilles, the conqueror of Cycnus,                                                                        [150]
was appeasing Pallas, offering blood
from a cow he sacrificed. Once he’d placed                                         240
the inner organs on the blazing altars
and that smell gods love had climbed to heaven,
part of the meat was held back for the rite
and the rest served out on dining tables.
The leaders, lying back on couches, filled
their bodies with well-cooked meat and dissolved
their thirst and cares with wine. No cithara
or singing voices or long boxwood flute
with many holes was there to entertain them.
Instead, they spent the night in conversation,                                         250
and the subject they discussed was courage.
They talked of their own battles and those fought                                                  [160]
by enemies and often got great joy
from recalling, each in turn, the dangers
they had encountered and endured. What else
would Achilles talk about? And what else
would other men prefer to talk about
in the company of great Achilles?
Their discussion focused, first and foremost,
on his recent triumph, the overthrow                                                     260
of Cycnus. They all found it astounding
that the young man’s body could not be sliced
by any weapon, was impervious to wounds,
and made steel blunt. Achilles and the Greeks
were marvelling at this, when Nestor said:

 

“Cycnus was the only warrior your age
who could shrug off a sword and not be cut                                                    [170]
by any blow. But in earlier times
I myself saw Thessalian Caeneus                                                     CAENEUS AND CAENIS
absorb a thousand blows without a wound                                       270
appearing on his body. Yes, Caeneus,
that Thessalian, famous for his exploits,
lived on Othrys. What was more amazing
about the man was this—when he was born,
he was a female.”

 

                                     All those warriors there,
intrigued with such a strange phenomenon,
entreated Nestor to recount the story.
Along with other men, Achilles said:

 

“Come now, tell us! You eloquent old man,
the wisdom of our age, all of us here                                                     280
have the same desire to learn the details.
Who was Caeneus? Why was he transformed
to the opposite sex? In what campaign,
in whose battles, did you get to know him?                                                           [180]
Who prevailed against him? Did anyone
fight him and prevail?”

 

                                             Old Nestor said:

 

“Although my slow old age gets in the way
and many things I saw in earlier years
escape me, I still remember most of them.
I have lived through two centuries and now                                           290
am living in the third, and a long life
can make one witness numerous events.
But among so many acts in battle
and at home, nothing is more firmly fixed
here in my mind than that.(9)

 

                                 Virgin Caenis,
child of Elatus, was celebrated
for her beauty, the loveliest young girl
in Thessaly, and one courted in vain                                                                 [190]
by jealous hopes of several suitors
in neighbouring towns—in your cities, too,                                       300
Achilles (for she was of your people).
Perhaps Peleus also might have tried
to win her, but he had already married
your mother, or else by then they were betrothed.
Caenis refused to marry anyone.
But, so people claim, while she was walking                                    CAENIS AND NEPTUNE
along a lonely shore, the god of the sea
assaulted her, and then (the same story
goes on to say) once Neptune had enjoyed
this new sexual affair, he said to her:

 

‘You can ask for anything you desire,                                         310
and I will not refuse. Choose what you wish.’                                             [200]

 

So Caenis answered:

 

                              ‘This attack on me
makes me really wish I never suffer
one like it again. So grant me this—
that I am not a woman. With that gift,
you’ll be offering everything I want.’

 

She spoke those last words in a harsher tone.                                  CAENIS IS TRANSFORMED
One could have thought the voice came from a man,
as indeed it had. The god of the deep seas                                       320
had by this time agreed to grant her wish,
and, in addition, now she was a man,
Neptune ensured that he could not be hurt
by any wound or slain by any sword.
Delighted with this gift, Caeneus left.
He roamed through the Thessalian countryside
and spent his time on things which men enjoy.

Now, Pirithoüs, bold Ixion’s son,                                                                    [210]
had married Hippodamia and asked
those savage creatures, the cloud-born centaurs,                              330
to sit in proper order at some tables                                                THE CENTAURS AND LAPITHS
set out in a cave sheltered by the trees.
Thessalian leaders came, and so did I.(10)
Crowds of unruly celebrating guests
filled the royal home with noise. As they sang
the marriage song and fires filled the hall
with smoke, the virgin bride appeared, a girl
more lovely than the others, surrounded
by a group of newly married women
and older wives. We said Pirithoüs                                                  340
was fortunate to have her as his bride,
a prophecy which almost proved a lie.
For your heart, Eurytus, you most savage                                        THESEUS AND EURYTUS
of the savage centaurs, was hot with wine,                                                       [220]
as well as from the sight of that young girl,
and you were ruled by drunkenness and lust.
Suddenly the tables were knocked over,
and the feast became a brawl. The new bride
was hauled away by force, dragged by the hair.
Eurytus snatched Hippodamia, while others                                     350
seized whichever woman there they fancied
or could lay their hands on. The place looked like
a looted city—sounds of women screaming
echoed through the house. We jumped up quickly—
all of us—and Theseus first cried out:

 

‘Eurytus, what mad fit is forcing you
to injure Pirithoüs with me here,
still living, and, in your stupidity,
to cause offense to both of us at once?’

 

In case what he just said had no effect,                                            360             [230]
brave Theseus pushed aside the centaurs
who hemmed him in and grabbed the young girl back
from those mad creatures taking her away.
Eurytus said nothing (he could not defend
the sort of thing he’d done by using words).
Instead, his shameless fists attacked the face
of the girl’s protector and struck his noble chest.
By chance an ancient mixing bowl was there,
its rough surface covered with embossed designs
in high relief. Theseus raised it up                                                     370
(it was huge, but he was even larger)
and threw it right in the centaur’s face.
Eurytus collapsed and lay there on his back,
while gobs of blood, as well as brains and wine,
came pouring from his mouth and wounded face
and his feet kept drumming on the soaking floor.
His brother centaurs, with two sets of limbs,                                                    [240]
incensed at Eurytus’ murder, all shouted
with a single voice:

 

                                  ‘To arms! To arms!’

 

Wine gave them courage. As the fight began,                                   380
cups, basins made of bronze, and fragile jars
went flying through the air. Things set down there
to adorn a feast were now being used
to slaughter men in battle.

 

                                              The first one
bold enough to strip away the offerings
from the innermost shrine was Amycus,
Ophion’s son. He began by taking
from that sanctuary a torch densely packed
with blazing fire. He lifted it high up,
like someone with a sacrificial axe                                                    390
trying to break the white neck on a bull,
and brought it down, fracturing the forehead
of Celadon, a Lapith, and left him                                                                    [250]
with his facial bones smashed in and shattered
beyond all recognition.(11) His eyes bulged out,
and bones around his mouth, as they were crushed,
had forced his nose back into the centre
of his palate. Pelates from Pellas,
tore off a maple table leg, struck Amycus,
and knocked him to the ground, forcing his chin                                400
hard against his chest. Then, while Amycus
was spitting out his teeth and blood, Pelates
hit him once again, and that second blow
dispatched him to the shades of Tartarus.
Next Gryneus stood there with a grim face
staring at the smoking altar. He cried:

 

‘Why don’t we use this?’

 

                                          He raised the altar—                                             [260]
it was immense—and threw it, fires and all,
into the middle of the Lapith ranks,
crushing two of them, Broteas and Orius.                                         410
Orius’ mother was Mycale,
whose incantations, people used to say,
had frequently brought down the crescent moon,
despite its struggles.(12) Exadius then cried:

 

‘You’ll not get away with that unpunished,
not if I can lay hands on a weapon!’

 

He had no spear, so he seized the antlers
of a stag hanging on a lofty pine tree
as an offering to the gods. Using these,
he drove two points in Gryneus’ face,                                              420
gouging out his eyes—one stuck on the horn,
the other slid onto his beard and hung there,                                                    [270]
soaked in blood.

 

                     Then, lo and behold, Rhoetus
snatches up a blazing log of plum wood
burning in the middle of the altar
and, swinging from the right, hits Caraxus
where the yellow hair conceals his temple.(13)
His hair, set alight by the rapid flames,
burns like dry fields of grain, while in the wound
the blood gives off a dreadful hissing noise,                                      430
as it burns up, the same way iron sounds
when a smith with crooked tongs picks up a piece
still red hot from the fire and plunges it
down in the trough—once immersed in liquid,
it spits and hisses in the lukewarm water.
Caraxus, though hurt, shakes the eager flames                                                  [280]
from his tousled hair, tears up slab of stone
set as a threshold in the ground, and lifts it
shoulder high—it would have filled a wagon—
but its huge weight prevents him tossing it                                         440
far enough to reach the ones he wants to hit.
But the massive stone does crush Cometes,
a friend of his, standing close beside him.
Rhoetus does not hold back his joy and shouts:

 

‘I hope that crowd of yours, the other people
in your camp, are all as strong as he is!’

 

Then he attacks Caraxus once again
with the half-burned log, battering his head
again and again with damaging blows,
splitting the sutures in the Lapith’s skull,                                           450
till bones sink down inside his oozing brain.
Triumphant Rhoetus now shifts his gaze                                                           [290]
to Euagrus and Corythus and Dryas, too.
He first knocks over Corythus, a lad
whose cheeks have their first covering of down.
Euagrus cries:

 

                                ‘What glory do you win
by slaughtering a boy?’

 

                                               But Rhoetus
stops him saying any more, by shoving
the burning wood right in his open mouth,
as he is speaking, and then driving it                                                 460
viciously through his mouth into his chest.
Then, savage Dryas, he goes after you,
as well, waving the fire around his head.
But with you he does not get the same result,
for, as he is boasting of his success
in killing all those men, you stab at him
with a fire-hardened stake where his neck
and shoulder meet. Rhoetus gives a groan
and with some difficulty pulls the stake                                                             [300]
away from the hard bone, then runs away,                                       470
soaked in his own blood. Orneus also flees,
along with Lycabas and wounded Medon,
hit in his right shoulder, with Thaumas, too,
and Pisenor, as well as Mermerus,
who recently could conquer anyone
in running, but who moves more slowly now
from the wound he has received. Pholus flees,
with Melaneus and boar-hunting Abas,
and the prophet Asbolus, who has tried,
without success, to keep them from a fight.                                      480
Nessus, too, is running away, afraid
of being wounded. To him Asbolus cries:

 

‘Do not run off. For you will be quite safe—
you’re slated for the bow of Hercules.’(14)

 

But some did not escape their death—Lycidas,
Eurynomus, Areus, and Imbreus—                                                                 [310]
all these centaurs were cut down by Dryas
with his right arm, when they confronted him.
You, too, Crenaeus, though you turned to flee,
were wounded in the front, for you looked back                              490
and got a heavy spear between the eyes,
right where your nose and lower forehead join.
In the middle of this massive uproar,
Aphidas lay there and did not wake up,
his whole body sunk in a timeless sleep.
His limp left hand still clutched a cup of wine,
and he was stretched out on a shaggy hide
of a bear from Ossa. Seeing him there,
from some distance off, lying motionless                                                          [320]
and no use in the fight, Phorbas slipped his hand                              500
inside his javelin thong and shouted:

 

‘Drink your wine with water from the Styx!’

 

And with no more delay, he hurled his spear
straight at the youthful lad. Now, Aphidas,
as it so happened, was lying on his back,
so the ash shaft tipped with steel was driven
deep into his neck, and he perished there
without feeling a thing. From his full throat
the dark blood poured and dripped onto the couch
and down into the wine cup in his hand.                                           510

 

I myself saw Petraeus trying to lift
an oak tree full of acorns from the earth.
While his arms were round the tree, moving it
back and forth, working on the loosened trunk,
a spear from Pirithoüs pierced his ribs                                                              [330]
and pinned his writhing chest to solid wood.
People say that Chromius and Lycus
were slain by valiant Pirithoüs,
but neither of those centaurs gave the victor
as much glory as he got from killing                                                  520
Helops and Dictys. Helops was transfixed
by a javelin thrown at him from his right.
It drove itself in his left ear and pierced
his temples. Dictys was running away,
afraid of Perithoüs, Ixion’s son,
who was coming after him, but tripped up
on a steep mountain ridge and fell headlong
down the slope. His heavy body split apart
a huge mountain ash and the fractured tree                                                       [340]
impaled him in the groin.

 

                                               Aphareus                                          530
moves up to avenge the death of Dictys.
He takes a rock ripped from the mountainside
and tries to throw it, but as he does this,
Theseus, son of Aegeus, strikes him                                                THESEUS AND THE CENTAURS
with his oaken club and breaks the huge bones
in his elbow. There is no time to pause,
and Theseus has no desire to slaughter
Aphareus, whose body is now harmless.
So he leaps up on tall Bienor’s back,
which is not used to bearing anyone                                                 540
except Bienor, presses his knees hard
into the creature’s ribs, while his left hand
seizes the centaur’s hair and holds on tight.
Then using his knotted club, Theseus
batters his face and mouth (still shouting threats)
and hits his solid temples. With this same club
he knocks over spear-throwing Lycopes,
Nedymnus, Hippasus (whose flowing beard                                                    [350]
protects his chest), Ripheus (a huge beast
taller than the trees), and Thereus,                                                   550
who in Thessaly grabs wild mountain bears
and carries them home, alive and kicking.
Demoleon could no longer bear to see
Theseus having such success in battle.
Using all his strength, he tried to rip up
the sturdy trunk of an ancient pine tree.
When that effort failed, he broke off the trunk
and threw it at Theseus, who had moved back
some distance from the approaching missile.
He had been warned by Pallas to withdraw                                     560
(that, at least, is what he hoped men would believe).                                        [360]
But the tree trunk did not miss completely.
It fell against tall Crantor’s chest and shoulder,
severing his neck. That man, Achilles,
had once been your father’s armour bearer,
given to Peleus by Amyntor,
king of the Dolopes, as surety,
to guarantee the peace. When Peleus,
from a distance, saw Crantor cut apart
with such a dreadful wound, he cried:

 

                                                   ‘Crantor,                                 570
the youth I cherish most, at least accept
this tribute to the dead.’

 

                               Then, with all his strength,
his powerful arm threw his ash-wood spear
straight at Demoleon. It pierced his ribs                                                           [370]
and stuck in there, quivering in the bones.
He pulled it out, but could not find the tip
(removing the shaft was difficult enough),
so the point stayed there, stuck inside his lung.
Pain made Demoleon even more enraged.
Though wounded, he went after Peleus,                                           580
rearing to kick him with his horses’ hooves.
Peleus absorbed the echoing blows
on shield and helmet, striving to protect
his upper chest. He held his weapons out
in front of him and with a single blow
through his enemy’s shoulder blade he speared
that creature with a double chest.(15) By now,
before this fight, he had already killed
Hyles and Phlegraeus from a distance,
and Clanis and Iphinoüs hand-to-hand.                                            590
To these he added Dorylas, who wore                                                            [380]
a wolf-skin hat and, rather than a spear,
carried a splendid set of crooked ox horns
dyed red from so much blood.

 

                                     Now, my courage
made my spirit strong, so I shouted out
to Dorylas:

 

                          ‘See how much your horns
fail to match my steel!’

 

                               I hurled my spear at him.
He could not avoid the blow, so he raised
his right hand to his forehead to ward off
the wound he would receive. But then his hand                                600
was pinned against his head. He screamed in pain,
but Peleus (who stood quite close to him),
seeing him struck like that and overcome
by such a vicious wound, hit Dorylas
with a sword thrust right below his belly.
The furious centaur charged at Peleus,
dragging his guts along the ground, but then,                                                    [390]
while trailing his own entrails, stepped on them,
and, as he did that, ripped them all apart
and got his legs entangled. He collapsed                                           610
with nothing left inside his abdomen.

 

And your beauty did not save you, Cyllarus,                                    CYLLARUS AND HYLONOME
not in that fight, if we, in fact, concede
a nature like your own is beautiful.
His downy yellow beard was just beginning,
and golden hair hung from his shoulder blades
half way down his flanks. His face was pleasing,
young and vigorous. His neck and shoulders,
his hands and chest, and all his human parts
looked like artistic statues men so praise.                                         620
Nor was his horse’s body down below
flawed or less noble than his human form.
With a horse’s head and neck, he would be fit                                                 [400]
for Castor. His back deserved a rider,
as did his deep and finely muscled chest.(16)
He was completely black, more so than pitch,
except for his white tail and snowy legs.
Many females of his species courted him,
but one made him her own, Hylonome.
There was no female lovelier than her                                              630
among those hybrid beasts in the deep woods.
She was the only one who held his heart
with her endearments, giving him her love
and telling him how much she was in love,
and by taking care of her appearance
(as much as that was possible for her
with those limbs she had). She would use a comb
to smooth her hair and sometimes deck herself                                                 [410]
with rosemary or violets or roses,
and sometimes wore white lilies. Twice a day                                  640
she washed her face in fountain streams falling
from the high forest ridge of Pagasae
and dipped her body in the flowing water.
On her left flank or shoulders, she would wear
wild creature’s hides which she would choose with care
to made her look attractive. Both of them
loved equally. Together they would roam
the mountains and explore the caves. And now
they both had come into that Lapith home
and together both had joined the fighting.                                         650
But now a javelin thrown from the left
(just who hurled the missile is uncertain)
hit you, Cyllarus, right below the spot                                                              [420]
where your neck and chest both meet. When the weapon
was pulled out, your heart, though slightly wounded,
lost it vital heat, and your whole body froze.
Hylonome quickly held his dying limbs,
placed her hand against the wound to close it,
and moved her mouth to his, in an attempt
to stop his spirit flying away. But then,                                             660
when she saw he was gone, she said some words
which the noise prevented me from hearing,
threw herself onto the spear which had killed
her husband, and as she died, embraced him.

 

Another centaur stands before my eyes—
Phaeocomes, who had knotted together                                                          [430]
six lion skins, as a protective cover
for both man and horse. He hurled a huge log
(two teams of oxen would hardly shift it)
and hit Tectaphus, a son of Olenos,                                                 670
crushing the very top part of his head
[and shattering the broad roof of his skull.
The soft stuff in his brain came oozing out,
through his eyes and ears and hollow nostrils,
just like curdled milk passing through oak twigs
or viscous liquids pressured in a sieve
seeping through dense openings in the mesh.](17)
But as Phaeocomes was getting ready
to strip the armour from dead Tectaphus—
your father knows this story—I plunged my sword                           680            [440]
into his lower gut. And my sword killed
Teleboas and Chthonius, as well.
Chthonius was waving a two-forked branch,
and Teleboas had a spear. Look here.
That is the scar from a wound he gave me.
It’s still visible, that old mark he made.
Those were the days I should have been sent off
to capture Troy. Back then I had the strength,
if not to take the city, at least to check
great Hector’s weapons with my own. But he,                                 690
in those days, had not yet been born or else
was just a boy. Now age has made me frail.
Why should I tell you about Periphas,
who overcame the centaur Pyraethus,
or talk of Ampyx, who drove his cornel spear,
without a point, into the opposing face
of four-footed Echeclus? Macareus                                                                 [450]
slaughtered Erigdupus from Pelethron
by burying a crowbar in his chest.(18)
And I remember how a hunting spear                                              700
from the hand of Nessus hit Cymelus
deep in his groin. And you should not believe
that Mopsus, son of Ampycus, was just
a man who prophesied what was to come,
for his throw killed the centaur Hodites,
who tried to speak, but failed, because the spear
went through his tongue, pinned it against his chin,
and fixed his chin against his throat.

 

                                                     Caeneus                                     CAENEUS AND LATREUS
had slaughtered five—Styphelus and Bromus,
Antimachus, Elymus, and Pyracmus                                                 710            [460]
(armed with a battle axe). I don’t recall
their wounds, but I kept track of the number
and their names. Then Latreus charged forward,
a centaur with massive limbs and body,
decked out in the armour he had stripped
from a warrior he had killed, Halesus,
who came from Thessaly. He was mature,
between old age and youth, with streaks of gray
across his temples and a young man’s strength.
His shield, helmet, and Macedonian spear                                       720
made him stand out. He rode around in circles,
facing each battle group in turn, clashing
his weapons and, in his arrogance, shouting
all sorts of gibes into the empty air:

 

‘Do I have to put up with you, as well,                                                       [470]
Caenis? Yes, I called you Caenis, because
to me you will always be a woman.
That’s how I think of you. Does not your birth
remind you and do you not think about
the act which brought you this reward, the price                          730
you paid for this false image of a man?
Consider what you were when you were born
or what you suffered, then go and take up
your spinning wheel and baskets. Use your thumb
to twist the yarn. Leave warfare to the men.’

 

While Latreus was taunting him like this,
Caeneus hurled his spear and hit the centaur,
where horse and man were joined, wounding his side
as he was running at full stretch. Latreus,
mad with pain, tried to strike the exposed face                                 740
of the Thessalian youth with his long spear.
But the spear just bounced away, like hailstones                                              [480]
from a roof or some small pebble striking
a hollow drum. Latreus moved in close
and strove to hit Caeneus by thrusting
his sword in his impenetrable side.
But there was no place the sword could enter.
The centaur cried:

 

                              ‘You still won’t get away!
Since my point is blunt, I will destroy you
with the blade.’

 

                     Turning his sword blade sideways,                               750
he reached out with his long right arm to slash
Caeneus in the gut. The blow re-echoed,
as if the sword had struck a marble body.
When the blade hit Caeneus’ hardened skin
it shattered into pieces.

 

                                          Once Caeneus
had exposed his body long enough and,
much to his enemy’s astonishment,
received no wound, he shouted:

 

                                      ‘Come on now,                                                    [490]
let me test your body with my steel!’

 

He drove his lethal sword up to the hilt                                             760
in the centaur’s flank, twisting and turning
the buried weapon in his flesh, redoubling
Latreus’ wounds. Then, lo and behold,
with a huge shout, the furious centaurs
all charged up, hurling and thrusting weapons
against one man. Their spears fell down, blunted,
and Caeneus, son of Elatus, stood there
unhurt. None of their weapons had drawn blood.
The centaurs were astonished at this marvel.
Monychus cried out:

 

                                   ‘What a huge disgrace!                            770
We are a whole group of people beaten
by someone who is not a real man.
But now, thanks to our pathetic efforts,                                                      [500]
we are what he used to be. What’s the point
of our powerful limbs, our double strength,
our hybrid nature which combines in us
the strongest animals of living things.
I do not think our mother was goddess
or we are Ixion’s sons. He was a man
so great he set his hopes on mighty Juno,                                    780
and we are conquered by an enemy
who is just half a man. Roll rocks and trees
on him, entire mountains, too! And squeeze
the living spirit out by throwing wood.
Let piles of logs press down his throat. Their weight
will end his life instead of wounds.’

 

                                     As Monychus finished,
he raised a tree, which, as it so happened,
had been blown down by the furious power                                                    [510]
of the violent South Wind, and hurled it
at Caeneus, who did not back away.                                               790
The entire crowd of centaurs did the same,
and soon Mount Othrys was devoid of trees
and Pelion had no more shade. Caeneus,
overpowered by the enormous heap,
is struggling underneath that weight of wood.
His hardy shoulders hold up the pile of oak,
but once the mound climbs up above his mouth
and higher than his head, he has no air
which he can draw upon to breathe. At times
he tries—without success—to lift himself                                         800
into the air and shake off all the trees
heaped there on top of him and sometimes
shifts the pile, just as we see Mount Ida                                                           [520]
when, lo and behold, it starts to shudder
and the whole earth shakes. How his story ended
is not clear. Some people claim his body,
crushed by that pile of wood, was driven down
to the void of Tartarus. But Mopsus,                                               CAENEUS IS TRANSFORMED
son of Ampycus, denied this. For he observed
a bird with tawny wings fly from the pile                                           810
up into the air. I saw it, as well
(that was my first and final sight of it).
When Mopsus saw the bird flying lazily
around his camp, gazing down and making
a loud noise, his eyes and spirit followed it,
and he called out:

 

                                  ‘Hail to you, Caeneus,
glory of the Lapith race, a great man once,                                                 [530]
but now the one bird of your kind.’

 

                                                      We believed
this was the truth, because we trusted Mopsus.
Grief increased our anger. We were incensed                                   820
one man had been assaulted by so many,
and we did not stop slashing with our swords
to vent our rage till half our enemies
had been killed and the rest had run away
and scattered under cover of the night.”

 

As Nestor was talking about this fight
between the Lapiths and half-human centaurs,
Tlepolemus, upset because the story                                                    HERCULES AND NESTOR
made no mention of his father, Hercules,
remarked:

 

                            “Old man, it astonishes me                                         830
that those tales you tell leave out any praise
for Hercules, because I well recall                                                                        [540]
my father often used to talk to me
about the cloud-born centaurs he had killed.”

 

Nestor answered sadly:

 

                          “Why force me to remember
sorrowful events, which open once again
those wounds which time has healed and to reveal
my hatred for your father, whose actions
were so damaging to me? By the gods,
that man accomplished things beyond belief.                                     840
The world is full of praise for Hercules!
I wish I could deny it. But we Greeks
do not laud Deïphobus or Polydamas
or even Hector, for what man ever praised
his enemies?(19)

 

                                   Once that father of yours
destroyed Messene’s walls and overwhelmed
two harmless cities—Pylos and Elis—                                                             [550]
demolishing my home with fire and sword.
I will not mention other men he killed,
but Neleus had twelve sons, all of us                                                850
outstanding younger men, and all twelve,
except myself, fell before the power
of Hercules. Of course, one must accept                                         PERICLYMENES
that those others could have been defeated,
but Periclymenes’ death was really odd.
Neptune, who founded the family line
of Neleus, had given this young lad
the power to take on any shape he liked
and to discard it and change back again.
Well, after Periclymenes had changed                                              860
into every shape, in a vain attempt
to flee from Hercules, he turned himself
into that bird which Jupiter so loves,                                                                [560]
the one whose hooked claws usually bear
the lightning bolt. Using that bird’s power,
its wings, its crooked beak, and curving talons,
he tore at Hercules’ face. But then,
as his wings carried him up to the clouds
and he hovered there, the man from Tiryns
took his bow that never misses and shot.                                          870
He hit him where the wing and side are joined.
He was not killed, but the wound had severed
the sinews, which now no longer functioned
and could not move—they lacked the strength to fly.
He fell back to the earth. His injured wings
could not beat the air, and then the arrow,
which was still clinging lightly to his wing,                                                          [570]
was driven inward by his body’s weight,
straight through his upper chest into his neck
on the left-hand side.

 

                         Now, you most glorious leader                               880
of the fleet from Rhodes, does it seem to you
I ought to sing in praise of Hercules
and his great deeds? But I am not seeking
to avenge my brothers any further
than keeping quiet about those exploits.
You and I, we share a solid friendship.”

 

When Nestor, in that sweet-toned voice of his,
had finished, the warriors turned once again
from telling stories to the gift of Bacchus.
Then they got up, left their couches, and spent                                      890
the remainder of the nighttime fast asleep.

 

But the god who with his trident governs                                                               [580]
the waters of the sea was sick at heart,                                                 NEPTUNE AND APOLLO
grieving with a father’s sorrow for the son
whose body he had changed into a swan
(like Phaëton’s friend, the son of Sthenelus).(20)
He despised savage Achilles and nursed,
in his memory, a rage against him
which was excessive. So now, when the war
had been dragging on for about ten years,                                             900
he spoke to Smintheus, long-haired Apollo,
with the following words:(21)

 

                               “O you, who are by far
the dearest to me of my brother’s children
and with me built the city walls of Troy,
which will not last, are you not sad to see
that citadel about to be destroyed?(22)
Do you not lament the many thousands
who died defending those same battlements?
I will not name them all, but does your mind                                                    [590]
ever think of Hector’s shade, that hero                                             1000
dragged past the walls of his own Pergamum?(23)
And yet that fierce Achilles still survives,
a more destructive man than war itself,
the one who wipes away the work we did.
Let him face me and feel what I can do
with my triple-pointed spear! However,
since we are not permitted to confront
our enemies in combat hand-to-hand,
you should kill him when he is not looking
with a secret arrow!”

 

                                              The Delian god,                                      1010
responding to his uncle Neptune’s feelings
and his own, as well, nodded his assent.
Concealing himself in clouds, Apollo                                                    APOLLO AND ACHILLES
moved among the ranks of Trojans and there,
in the middle of the men being slaughtered,
saw Paris shooting arrows now and then                                                              [600]
at unimportant Greeks. The god revealed
he was divine and said:

 

                                 “Why waste your arrows
shedding blood of common soldiers? For if
you are concerned about your family,                                              1020
you should pay attention to Achilles
and avenge your slaughtered brothers.”

 

                             The god said this                                                      DEATH OF ACHILLES
and pointed to the son of Peleus
mowing down Trojan bodies with his sword.
Then he turned Paris’ bow towards him,
and the god’s death-dealing hand directed
the unerring arrow at Achilles.
And now the old man Priam could rejoice
for the first time since his son Hector died.
And so you, Achilles, who have overcome                                            1030
such powerful men, are finally slain
by a cowardly thief who snatched away
a Grecian wife! If the Fates ordained
a woman’s hand would kill you in that war,                                                           [610]
you’d prefer to die from a battle axe
in the hands of a warrior Amazon queen.(24)
And now Achilles, grandson of Aeacus,
the man who has terrorized the Trojans,
the great glory of the Greeks, defender
of their Pelasgian name, the leader                                                        1040
who has been invincible in battle,
has been cremated. Vulcan, the same god
who armed him, has consumed him in the flames.(25)

 

Now he is ashes, and little remains
of the great Achilles, hardly enough
to fill a funeral urn. But his fame lives on
and fills the entire world. The tributes
match the man himself. And with this glory
the son of Peleus remains as mighty
as in earlier days and does not feel                                                        1050
the empty spaces of deep Tartarus.
One can tell how glorious Achilles was                                                                 [620]
by how those warriors fought for his shield.                                          THE ARMS OF ACHILLES
They took up arms to battle for his arms.                    
But Diomedes, son of Tydeus,
did not dare to claim them, nor did Ajax,
Oïleus’ son, or Menelaus,
younger son of Atreus, or his brother,
the greater warrior Agamemnon,
or any of the others. Only Ajax,                                                            1060
son of Telamon, and Laërtes’ son,
Ulysses, had the boldness to assert
that they deserved the glory of those arms.
To avoid the burden and bad feeling
involved in the decision, Agamemnon,
blood relative of Tantalus, commanded
the leaders of the Argives to sit down
in the middle of the camp and shifted
the decision in this quarrel to them all.

 

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) The sacrifices are “pointless” because Aesacus is not dead and thus the ritual will not have the desired effect of helping him reach the Underworld. [Back to Text]

(2) Paris abducted Helen, wife of the Greek king Menelaus, and the Trojans refused to return her. Riley notes that different writers have offered different estimates of the size of the Greek fleet: Homer 1186, Dictys Cretensis 1225, and Dares 1140. Pelasgian is a common name for the Greeks (derived from the name for the original inhabitants of the area). [Back to Text]

(3) For the story of how Neptune helped build the walls of Troy see above 11.306. The Aeonian sea is a reference to the Aegean sea between Greece and Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(4) Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, the leader of the Greek expedition, had offended the virgin goddess Diana, who sent the winds to hold up the fleet until the appropriate sacrifice was made. Agamemnon was called upon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigeneia. [Back to Text]

(5) In some other famous versions of this story, Agamemnon does sacrifice his daughter. [Back to Text]

(6) This is a slur against Achilles, whose mother, Thetis, was a Nereïd, a daughter of Nereus and a minor sea goddess; whereas, Cycnus’ father was Neptune, god of the sea and of everything in it. [Back to Text]

(7) Lyrnessus was a city close to Troy. Eëtion, king of Thebes (in Asia Minor, not the Thebes in Boeotia) was a Trojan ally. Achilles and the Greeks attacked and destroyed the city and killed Eëtion. The Caÿcus was a river in Asia Minor. Telephus, a son of Hercules, was wounded by Achilles’ spear, but then healed by the rust on the spear point. [Back to Text]

(8) The is Ovid’s third account of the transformation of a man called Cycnus into a swan. For the other two see 2.530 and 7.599. [Back to Text]

(9) Nestor’s old age at the time of the Trojan War was legendary. In Homer’s depiction of him, he has ruled over his people for three generations (not for three centuries), a detail that would probably make him about 75 years old. [Back to Text]

(10) The Centaurs had the head, torso, and arms of a human being and the body, legs, and tail of a horse. Both the Centaurs and Pirithoüs were descended from Ixion. They had quarreled before over family properties. The phrase “cloud born” refers to the fact that, according to some accounts, the Centaurs were born from Ixion and a cloud in the shape of Juno. Jupiter made the cloud to direct Ixion’s attention away from Juno, whom Ixion was keen to attack sexually. [Back to Text]

(11) The Lapiths were a tribe in Thessaly. [Back to Text]

(12) According to popular belief, lunar eclipses were caused by witches stealing the moon. [Back to Text]

(13) Rhoetus was a centaur. [Back to Text]

(14) The point here is that Nessus is destined to be killed by Hercules and thus will not die in this fight. For Ovid’s story of Hercules and Nessus, see 9.164 ff. [Back to Text]

(15) The centaur has two chests—one of a human being and one of a horse. [Back to Text]
 
(16) Castor, son of Helen and Zeus, was famous for his horsemanship. [Back to Text]

(17) Some editors have cast doubt on the authenticity of these lines. [Back to Text]

(18) Pelathron was a region of Thessaly. [Back to Text]

(19) Deïphobus, Polydamas, and Hector were important enemies of the Greeks at Troy, especially Hector, the Trojans’ leader and their finest warrior. [Back to Text]

(20) Ovid is here bringing together two of the three different accounts of the transformation of someone called Cycnus. Neptune is mourning his son Cycnus, whose story is told earlier in this book (see 12.111 ff.). Phaëton’s friend, Cycnus, son of Sthenelus, has no relationship to Neptune (for his story see 2.530 ff.). I have added a few words in line 896 of the English, to clarify this point, which is somewhat confusing in the Latin. [Back to Text]

(21) Smintheus was an epithet for Apollo. Its precise meaning is unclear (“killer of field mice,” perhaps). [Back to Text]

(22) For Ovid’s account of how Apollo and Neptune built the walls of Troy see 11.294 ff. [Back to Text]

(23) The Pergamum was the citadel in Troy, the highest point in the city. When Achilles killed Hector, he dragged him around Troy a number of times. [Back to Text]

 

(24) This is probably an allusion to Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, who was killed by Achilles during the Trojan War. In some accounts, he fell in love with her as soon as he removed the helmet from her corpse. Other accounts say that he sexually violated the corpse. [Back to Text]

(25) Vulcan had made special divine armour for Achilles. [Back to Text]

 

 

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